Should You Watch Made In Abyss?

Episode 1 Summer Anime 2017 Review
made in abyss summer anime season 2017 episode 1 review
Made in Abyss, an anime adapted from a manga by Akihito Tsukushi. (c) Kinema Citrus Studio

Made in Abyss is one of the most charming premieres of the summer anime 2017 season. Its original character design, lively and lovable character animation, gorgeous background work, whimsical music and skillful exposition makes for a magical episode 1 that introduces us to a world full of mysteries, a strange and intriguing world so beautiful it makes you nostalgic for a place you’ve never been. Made in Abyss is produced Kinema Citrus, the studio behind personal favorite Barakamon, so its endearing child characters and magical realism are a pleasure to savor.

Facing this world with all of a child’s enthusiasm and energy is our protagonist, a lively young troublemaker named Riko, who’s been sent into the Abyss to raid caves for valuable Relics. Where do these Relics come from? What is this Abyss? What cataclysm caused the skeleton Riko sees, curled up in prayer at the time of its death? We don’t have all the answers by the start of this episode, nor should we, but we learn just enough about this world by the episode’s end to want to know more.

Riko and her friend Nat are filling enormous backpacks with as many Relics as their small frames can carry when a huge floating snake called a crimson splitjaw tries to eat Nat, who’s been knocked out. Riko uses the red whistle around her neck to attract the beast’s attention and after a tense action sequence, she teeters on the edge of the Abyss with nowhere to go and the beast slavering behind her. She screams for help and is miraculously saved by fiery blasts that send the crimson splitjaw spinning away.

This doesn’t actually startle our indefatigable Riko too much. She dusts herself off and tries to find whatever must have saved her, spotting a necklace with a pretty blue jewel that she snatches up along the way. Shortly past that spot, she finds the form of a young boy. She realizes quickly that he’s a robot whose mechanical hand is still smoking. Concluding that this must be her savior, she and Nat cooperate to get the robot back up to the surface.

This is where the astonishing opening theme smacks us in the face with a dose of sweetness and light that casts such tenderness over the story, you’ll feel like these kids are your own little siblings. We also see the magnificent City of the Great Pit, a vast and crowded metropolis ringing the Abyss. The kids live in an orphanage and sneak the robot in using a friend’s baby brother to distract the orphanage Director, a black-garbed, pale woman with a voice so strict you’ll sit up straight in your own seat.

Later, we see the kids in class. The Director scolds Riko directly and promises sterner punishments for who withhold the Relics that help pay for the orphanage. After class, Riko is interrogated more directly by Leader, a put-upon young man who seems stern but not unkind or uncaring. She just barely manages not to reveal the secret of the robot boy and runs off to her room.

Using an electric device jury-rigged in Riko’s bedroom (a former torture chamber where Riko was put for causing a ruckus and whose sinister feel doesn’t intimidate Riko one whit), the kids wake the robot boy, who adorably sneezes a puff of dark smoke from an earlier failed attempt to wake him with hot coals. Disoriented but not frightened, the robot boy can’t remember anything: not who he is, not what he is, not where he came from, not what he can do nor even how he saved Riko.

Unfortunately, the surge of electricity used to wake the robot boy caused the orphanage’s power to go out. Leader heads straight for Riko’s bedroom to find out what’s what. The panicked kids fling a blanket over the robot and sneak out through her window while Riko tries to distract Leader. But the robot boy hooks up to the ceiling rafters with his extending arm, so when Leader checks under the blanket, nothing’s there.

Leader drags Riko out of the room for her punishment, and the robot boy has a moment to examine himself. He has a bellybutton and a penis, which baffles him: why would a robot need either of those? Robot boy has a really good point there. But Riko manages to escape Leader and runs back to her room, where robot boy uses his extending arm to swing them both out of the orphanage. Riko takes robot boy, now dubbed Reg after a dog she used to own, to a beautiful look-out point surrounded by windmills. From there, she introduces Reg to the City of the Great Pit, Orth.

Here’s where we receive voice-over exposition, which gives us the following facts: the Abyss has been around for almost 2000 years, has a diameter of around 1000 meters, has claimed the lives of many an adventurer, is crammed with dangerous monsters and valuable Relics, and has attracted treasure and thrill seekers since its discovery. No one has ever seen the bottom. Our next episode is titled “Resurrection Festival,” promising more worldbuilding, and I am riveted . Fine, Anime Strike, I hate you, but consider me subscribed, you greedy bastard.

Made in Abyss ’ worldbuilding is intelligent and natural. Take, for example, the way the kids’ classroom is set up: their desks are set into the wall and ladders are set up so that kids climb up to their seat, which makes sense for a world that revolves around ascents and descents. The kids wear red whistles and are referred to as Red Whistles, so when Riko mentions wanting to descend as deep into the Abyss as her mother, a White Whistle, we understand that this title must be meant for an elite cave raider as opposed to novices like these children.

We also understand the importance of White Whistles and the danger of their positions; this society values White Whistles so highly that their children are provided for even after they die, which is so likely that this orphanage was set up in the first place. To convey all these details without talking heads standing there info-dumping is a feat not every show can manage.

The show’s background music is excellent, quirky and energetic and perfectly well-suited to each scene’s mood. Even the sound design is notably superior; the thunk of Reg’s robot arm landing on his helmet and the creak of windmills are two examples that stood out for me. That final image of the sun rising over the City of the Great Pit, clouds swirling around the Abyss, gave me chills. Little details like Riko’s flopping pigtails or her stubbing her foot on the way to get the door are so endearing, giving these enthusiastic characters an even greater sense of life and energy. I can’t wait to learn more about the Abyss, Reg, Riko and Orth itself.

Made in the Abyss streams on Amazon’s Anime Strike every Friday. Will it be a part of your queue like it’s part of mine? Feel free to let us know in the comments section below.

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